Karen Weinberg, Ag Digest, a publication from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Washington County, March 2002
At the turn of the 20th century in many towns in this area of the country, neighboring farmers shared "works" so that they could run their farms more efficiently and more profitably. They helped each other plant, harvest, and build, they shared equipment and labor, and they provided the extra hands that were needed to carry out both routine and unusual farm operations. By the end of World War II, the availability of modern farm machines made it possible for farmers to run their farms without relying on the labor and know-how of their neighbors. Today, it is no longer commonplace for neighboring farmers to work together, share resources, or rely on each other. Has this change in farming meant that an important asset has been forgotten? Could this practice help you to improve your farming operation?
While I am no expert in this topic, my experience with the old-fashioned idea of shared "works" has been very positive. I have been very lucky because the farmers who live in my area are kind and neighborly, and have always been willing to share their farming knowledge or provide advice when asked. They are generous about loaning out equipment, are quick to help in an emergency, and willing to coach a newcomer about things that can not be found in any textbook. Now that I am trying to make farming my livelihood, I have learned that both this novice and the experienced farmer can benefit simply by sharing ideas, equipment, and work. Having good, working relationships with neighboring farmers has allowed my farm to run more efficiently and, ultimately, more profitably.
Since the resources that each farm has can differ widely (e.g., skills, equipment, time), there are unlimited opportunities where sharing can take place. These arrangements can be as formal or informal as the personalities involved feel comfortable. With fellow neighbors I have had arrangements to share barn space, hay fields, borrow and loan-out equipment, and graze stockpiled forage. I have purchased equipment knowing in advance that it can (and will) be shared, and have NOT purchased equipment knowing that my neighbor is willing to share or lease what he has. In the last two years, I have made plans with my farming neighbors to: jointly lease and share bordering farmland, purchase crops which have been custom grown & harvested for my operation, and use unoccupied farmland to keep it open and to prevent it from becoming a tax liability.
The Forgotten Assest in Your Farming Operation
Probably the most important result of this approach to farming for me - a new farmer with limited experience and resources and unlimited questions - is the sense of community that comes with sharing with other farmers. When farms are profitable and owners enjoy farming, all of us who live in rural areas benefit. It all starts with talking with your fellow farmers to see if there are ways that you can share "works." Is that an asset you have overlooked in your farming operation?